…were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.
The “vulture capital owners” gave the Denver Post a crushing blow on March 14 when they announced that 30 people were being cut. In 2003 the Post had over 300 people. Now the staff is in the 60s. The iconic photo below shows silhouettes of staff no longer with the Post.
On Friday April 6 at 2pm, the Post made worldwide news when they pushed back on their owner, Digital First Media, owned by Alden Global Capital, a New York based hedge fund. The Post published its Sunday Perspective section online, then in print, devoted entirely to the value and importance of newspapers and the brutal impact of the staff cuts. “It went off like a rocket,” says editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett. “We got calls from Brazil, New Zealand, Germany and more, not because everyone in the world cares about the Denver Post, but because the same thing is happening in their communities and across the U.S.”
Our mayor and governor, the two people who take the most criticism in the press when things go wrong in their administrations, quickly spoke out about the importance of the Denver Post. Gov. Hickenlooper proclaimed Colorado Journalism Week. Mayor Hancock, on CNN’s Reliable Sources, said, “We can trust that the Denver Post is reporting with standards. The stories have been vetted. They’ve been corroborated. You can’t do that on the social media platform. And the newspaper gives the opportunity for the accused, like myself, to give a response and have a balance. You can’t count on that in the social media platform. The Denver Post is… important for democracy… With the lack of standards and lack of vetting in social media… people don’t know what to believe anymore.”
A few days after that Perspective section went live, Plunkett was greeted with a standing ovation when he told the emotional story of how it all happened. A sad and shocked but also jubilant crowd of newspaper devotees went to the Denver Press Club to hear what went on behind the scenes.
Plunkett says he knew what was coming on March 14 when the staff gathered. He knew the number was 30. Still, he says, “I wasn’t prepared for the gush of sobs.” He looked at what the venture capital owners were doing to the 100+-year-old trusted institution in Denver and reacted:
“Believing you can cheat the hard work and still get good stories is BS.
“Trimming your staff down to nothing, thinking the readers will never notice is BS.
“Buying mansions off your newspaper profits when you’re firing thousands of journalists across the country is BS.
“We saw a way to speak truth to power in a way power didn’t expect and holy sh– did it attract a lot of attention.”
Plunkett says Digital First Media reacted quickly on Friday afternoon, calling Editor Lee Ann Colacioppo shortly after the story went live online. Three things were under consideration: fire Chuck Plunkett; take the thing down off the internet; and pull the Perspective section from the printing plant. Plunkett says he had kept the editor out of the plan. “I thought if heads are going to roll, it’s my fault.” But the editor stood firm. Plunkett says, “In that game of chicken, if they had tried to do any of those things after the story was launched it wouldn’t have looked good. It would have created bad publicity. Because we still have the public trust, that game of chicken worked out in our favor.”
No one knows what the Post’s future will bring. Plunkett hopes people won’t boycott the paper because of all the people who will be hurt. But he understands people don’t like paying for a subscription that goes to the hedge fund. He suggests the community can support the paper by letting advertisers know they saw them in the paper. And members of the community can contact Digital First or Alden Capital to let them know what you think.
As important as national news is, much of what’s important in our everyday lives happens locally. Both the major city paper and small community papers play an essential role in having an informed community. As publishers of the Front Porch, we support the Denver Post, and we hope NE Denver will continue to support the Front Porch. Local businesses are bringing this community newspaper to you. We ask that you let them know you appreciate their support of your local newspaper.